Shrouded in a theater's darkness and shadowed by the words "Matt Damon" on the film's poster, Hereafter's biggest star is director Clint Eastwood. While Eastwood is not on-screen in the film, his directorial presence is very much apparent throughout the exploration of themes including the afterlife, the middle class, and mortality. The film is about three different people and their own interactions with the hereafter that may or may not be awaiting us. I was able to talk to Cecile de France, an on-screen star in the film, about Hereafter. In the movie, she plays a French news reporter who sees mortality differently once she has a brush with death during a tsunami. To my delight (and surprise), de France shared the same enthusiasm I had when it came to discussing what it was like working with Eastwood, etc.
Talking with the actress about the film, our conversation clashed temporarily. She thought of Hereafter from a more technical perspective, one that said writer Peter Morgan's script was guiding the message and the mood of the film, etc. On the other hand, I viewed the movie as a piece of Eastwood's own authorship, where even the slightest moments in a film could be significant to his entire directorial perspective. As you will read below, I found out that such discussions never happen on set. Like his famous character The Man with No Name, Eastwood shoots once, and then moves on.
Hereafter opens nationwide Friday, October 22nd.
Working on this film, what thoughts or ideas did Hereafter instill in you?
I was so concentrated. Clint Eastwood only does one take. So you must be very ready. You can ask for another one, if you want. But you’ll feel stupid. You know that he only does one take, and if you say, “Can I do another one?” You feel stupid. But he’ll say, “Yeah, one take. Let’s do another scene, yeah? No problem.” I was concentrated, and I was trying to enjoy this amazing experience. I never thought that in my life it could happen to me – this kind of adventure.
Did working with the story of Hereafter connect with any part of your life?
Not personally. I’m a very open minded person. I’m very tolerant towards this kind of thing. But nothing really happens that is very important in the paranormal aspect of my life. The film doesn’t give an answer. It’s more about being here and now. I’m more curious about mystery. I’m very interested in the mystery. I like the fact that as human beings we don’t control everything.
Other than the one take fashion, how is working with Eastwood different than other directors?
I have never seen someone trust so many people. He trusts all of the members of his crew, he trusts me, and he trusts all of the actors. He doesn’t really direct us. Once he has chosen you, he lets do what you know. He is an actor too. He knows that actors are ready to do what they’re supposed to do. An actor can ask him for help, or direction. Of course he’s completely warm and so sweet. Of course you can ask what you want. You can do what you feel and trust yourself, and it’s OK.
Do you have a favorite Clint Eastwood movie?
It’s very difficult to say one. But … I really like Space Cowboys.
What does religion mean to you, and how do you feel Eastwood presented it in the film, especially with the funeral attended by Marcus?
I think the film is very close from the script. And the script is cleverly done. About religion … I don’t know. I only saw the film one time. But religion, it’s just like in the script. It doesn’t give an answer. I know that Clint Eastwood, as I read in an interview, is Agnostic. And Peter Morgan too. But they have tolerance towards believers.
There are a lot of religious themes in the later Eastwood movies, especially when he deals with mortality like Gran Torino, Million Dollar Baby, etc. I was just curious to see how you thought that played into Hereafter.
Ah, yes. You know, on the set, we don’t talk about that.
Do you talk about many of these things with Eastwood? About the story?
A lot of it is you being trusted as an actor …
Yes. Everybody reads the same script, but each of us knows exactly what we have to do. The script was very complex and complete. It wasn’t that difficult. I don’t think he likes that. He’s [more like] “Okay, let’s do it. One shot.”
That is remarkable.
Yeah, because sometimes you say, “How do you do it? A very good film like that, and just one take?” It’s just being in the present. [Eastwood] really enjoys the present. When we are shooting, we really enjoy the present. And he transmits that to you. You must be in the present, in connection with your character, your story, your partner, [and] with the crews. It’s magical. Clint is what emanates this kind of thing.
Talk about the filming of the opening sequence.
We shot it in a tank at Pinewood Studios. And a few hours in June in Hawaii, with Clint Eastwood with us in the big waves.
Was that also done with one take, even with the stunts?
I read that he was very hands-on during these scenes. He was a swimmer when he was much younger. Director of Photography Tom Stern wouldn’t go in the water, but Eastwood would.
Yes, he was in the water with us. Not in the tank, because it was very prepared with the camera etc. But filming the opening scene, it was very wild. It was too far away from us, it was on the beach. It was very far out in the ocean. He was trying to tell us, “Action!” And he hates to do that. Yelling is not for him. So he took his clothes off, and jumped in the water with us.
Eastwood said a few months ago, before a trailer was even released, that this was his first chick flick.
[Consults with translator over the definition of “chick flick.”]
What do you think about that?
I don’t agree.
I didn’t see much of that in the movie. The romance is wonderful, but it’s smaller.
Yes, there’s something very romantic. With the happy end, and that love is the answer of the life. But it’s true. I think it’s true that love is the most important thing on the earth. It’s not only for a woman. No, it’s not true in other films that he’s done. A Perfect World is very sentimental. But it’s not about a woman and a man, but a child and a man. It’s about love.
It’s been said that the French were the first to take Eastwood serious as a filmmaker, before the Americans gave him Oscars for Unforgiven. How do you think that special attention or enthusiasm the French have about Eastwood played a part in Hereafter, or if they made him more driven to film in Paris?
I see what you mean. But when you read the script, [the story] happens in Paris. If he fell in love with Paris because of the script … perhaps.
Okay. I’m just looking at it from an authorship perspective.
Yeah. We never talk about that. I know that he loves Paris. I don’t know if it’s an important thing for him. Perhaps the fact that he had chosen French speakers like me. But he’s very smart, because he made Letters from Iwo Jima in Japanese, but he doesn’t speak Japanese. He doesn’t speak French. So, it’s clever then. Just thinking about this kind of consideration.
He’s clearly a universal filmmaker. No longer just an American icon.
Quick Questions with Cecile de France
Favorite fruit? Mangosteen.
If you could be someone for 24 hours? Clint Eastwood. He looks so happy and cool with himself. I think he’s found his inner peace. He’s at peace with himself, and his ego. He’s so calm and happy. He’s very funny. He emanates love.
Your favorite summer movie? Silence of the Lambs.
Age of first kiss? Very late. 17.